The Squishy Stage

A Little Bit Less

My wife and I have done our fair share of child raising. We currently own the rights to 4 boys that were created by us and, by extension, are now being raised by us. So what I’m about to say next might (to the un-parental ears, especially) sound a bit harsh, but I’m declaring that I’ve earned enough cred to say it anyways.

Our youngest son, Huck, is at that age (or, more accurately, “developmental stage”) where we like him again.

You see, generally speaking (and every parent is different, for sure), newborns pop out and are so adorable, smell so good, and the miracle of life is still so fresh in the air, that you can’t help BUT like the little wrinkle ball. However, as they grow bigger, and your sleeping chart grows smaller, you slowly start to like them a little. bit. less.

It isn’t only the sleep deprivation, however.

It’s how they consume all of what used to be called “your life.” All the things you normally did, at a normal pace, have been forever altered or eliminated entirely.

And, mind you, I’m just the Daddy speaking. All of this gets amplified in our situation when you’re the Mommy, and you’re breastfeeding. Seriously.

Nonetheless what ends up happening is, even though you absolutely adore and love your little tiny human, you find yourself just not liking them as much.

But then…

Oh then…

They hit the SQUISHY STAGE.

The Squishy Stage

It may go by a different name in your household, but for us we call it The Squishy Stage. And this is the stage where you find yourself, almost on a daily basis, wanting to just reach down and snatch your little bundle of cuddleliciousness and squish the beejeezus out of them.

And you find yourself liking your child again, thanks to their newfound squishiness.

They are cute. And cuddly.

And squishy.

When Jae (our 3rd son) reached this stage, he just adopted it as one of his many names. We would routinely call him Squish, Squishy, or, my personal favorite, Squish Bucket.

The most magical part of the Squishy Stage is their cheeks.
Their cheeks just radiate with squeezable sweetness.

You hold them and you squish them.
You kiss them and you smush your nose in to them.

It’s beautiful.

The Down Side

However there’s something surprisingly frustrating with the Squishy Stage.

It’s kind of like how you can see a photograph, or a painting, of a gorgeous landscape. Truly breathtaking in its ability to capture the beauty found in nature. And yet, even after staring at it and appreciating it as much as you can, you ultimately find yourself just not quite satisfied. And you think, “if only I could see the REAL thing.”

Or, it’s kind of like when you have a cold, and it’s one of those colds that completely knocks out your sniffer. And you can’t taste ANYthing. But you sit down to this amazing meal and stick a fork full of what you KNOW is really, really good food… but you just can’t taste it. It’s just not satisfying.

During the Squishy Stage, when you’re pressing your cheek firmly against the radiating squeeziness of your child’s cheek, there is this sense that you just

can’t

get

close

enough.

It’s as though that chamber in your heart, reserved for the exponentially expanding quantity of love required to raise littles, is bursting at the seams, but your smashing proximity to your littles’ cheeks just still isn’t enough.

I wonder if that’s why, according to the late Maurice Sendak, the Wild Things said to Max, “we’ll eat you up, we love you so!”

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at January 7, 12.06 PM

Because when you just can’t get close enough cheek-to-cheek the only other option appears to be to consume them entirely. That’s the only way to get closer.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

This sense that there are moments with a loved one where you just can’t get close enough to truly satisfy the demands of your love-exploding heart?

That’s what the Squishy Stage does to me.

Closer

This past Sunday at church we sang “Closer” by Steffany Frizzell. And for me this song gives a voice to that ache in our soul when we just can’t get close enough.

Your love has ravished my heart
And taken me over, taken me over

And all I want is to be
With you forever, with you forever

So pull me a little closer
Take me a little deeper
I want to know your heart
I want to know your heart

‘Cause your love is so much sweeter
Than anything I’ve tasted
I want to know your heart
I want to know your heart

Honestly, I don’t really know what “closeness” to God looks like. Or, for that matter, feels like.

Sometimes I think I “feel” close.
Other times it feels like there is great distance between me and the Divine.

And some days (I’ve had a lot of them lately) I feel like I want… no, I NEED, God to pull me a little closer.

I want to find some sort of connection with my God that satisfies. That is enough. That is good.

I want to know God’s heart, and to feel known by God.

My hunch is this: as much as right now Huck is in the Squishy Stage, and I just can’t seem to get close enough to him, I get the feeling that this is how God ALWAYS feels towards me. That God’s heart is always expanding and exploding with a love that constantly wants to pick me up and squeeze me, hold me, squish me.

I may be wrong.
But I think I’m right on this.

So if you have a little one, or a loved one, and today you give them a squeeze and think to yourself, “I’d eat them up, I love them so,” then just remember: that’s how God feels about you.

You are loved.

photo

Super Lucky, or Spirit Led?

Shattering Misconceptions

I’m about to share a secret with you.

A secret about us Worship Leaders that, once shared, might ban me from the ICOPWLWAS*

But here it goes: sometimes, when I plan worship, I have zero idea what the preacher will be talking about.

(cue the *glass shattering sound effect* as people’s conceptions about the Worship Leader are broken)

Yes, I know. It’s shocking.
Most of you probably assume that us Worship Leaders spend hours together in collaboration with the preacher to flesh out the intricacies of the sermon and decide how best to build a flow of music/scripture/prayer that builds on, or complements, or sets up, or contributes in some way to the message of the sermon.

And this collaboration session, of course, comes only after hours spent in prayer and fasting (by the worship leader) as he/she seeks direction for the upcoming worship set. Then, when the teaching pastor and the worship leader come together with their ideas for the weekend, it’s just a spiritual explosion of blossoming brilliance that pushes back against the powers of darkness and emerges victorious with a light-bending, soul-lifting, mind-blowing plan for a worship service guaranteed to convert the great Deceiver himself!

More or less, that’s generally how it goes.

However, getting back to the secret I let you in on, Continue reading

Liturgy of Doubt in Salem, OR

A couple months back I put on an evening of worship and I called it “Liturgy of Doubt” (thank you, Pete Rollins, for the language).

It was an incredibly moving experience, and my wife kept saying, “you need to take this on the road… more people need to experience this!”

Well, THAT vision hasn’t quite come to fruition (yet), but I WILL be up in Salem, Oregon this weekend to put on another Liturgy of Doubt at Courtstreet Christian Church.

So, if you are anywhere near Salem this Saturday, I invite you to come on out at 6pm and join me.. join us!

Here’s a promo video I shot for their church.

A Liturgy of Doubt Promo (Jan. 19th @6pm) from Court Street on Vimeo.

A Liturgy of Doubt

Stage setup for REVAL: Doubt

Last night at REVEAL: A Night for Worship (hosted here at Missiongathering) we spent some time engaging with the idea of a Liturgy of Doubt. Inspired by this segment of a talk from Peter Rollins, wherein he posits that the church could potentially be the place for people not to come and express their belief, but come to express their doubts, we sought out to create such a space.

Here’s a bit of what took place last night in what is being called, “the best church service I’ve ever been to.” -Kate Martin (Yes, she’s my wife… so what!? ;) )

Open in Song

We kicked the night off with “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Great midtempo song. Good way to start off a more meditative/reflective night of worship. Not a ton of energy (which would be counter-productive), but not overly sleepy (which sets a difficult tone). Plus, it’s a great Call to Worship song…

All creatures of our God and King / Lift up your voice, and with us sing.

C’mon everybody, time to get yer praise on!

Call to Worship: Setting the Theme for the Night

After the opening song I took a few moments to explain what our time together was (hopefully) going to look like. I explained how we were going to look at the idea of Doubt and create a safe space to express those doubts. How Doubt is completely normal and natural for people who live by faith. You can’t have one without the other, regardless what Joel Osteen tries to say.

I also lamented about how difficult it was to find music for this particular theme. There are not many (g0od) congregational worship songs that give voice to our doubts. Part of this is possibly because we’ve been trained in the church, by the church, that to Doubt is a negative thing. It is to be avoided, and shame on you for not having faith. So why would we want or need songs that would lead us to say/sing things that aren’t empirically true, or don’t lift us up to a more secure place of trust and hope?

So I said that several songs we were singing tonight I actually changed the lyrics to, so that they would better give voice to our struggles and our doubts. And other songs, songs that may have been written to give voice to our doubts, unfortunately all tend to resolve by Verse 3 or the Bridge. So that, by time the song is over, you’ve come out of your place of Doubt and are expressing an attitude of faith and trust. But life doesn’t resolve so quickly… why then should our liturgy?

Worship through Song

We then sang “40” by U2. A great song inspired by the Psalm of lament found in chapter 40.

I’ve waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry // How long, to sing this song?

Prayer

Invited everyone to pause and to center themselves, and invite God to open our hearts a bit further to the reality that God is a secure Being. So secure, in fact, that God is not offended by our doubts. God does not get frustrated at us when we get frustrated at God. We need to let go of the destructive theology that views God as having low self esteem and gets all bent out of shape when we go through seasons of Doubt. And we would do well to live in to the reality that God actually might be inviting us to express our Doubts.

Worship through Song

When the Tears Fall,” by Tim Hughes, is a really cool song. Some strong lyrics that really fit the night well, but still opting for a blend of doubt and faith. So that we cannot fully sing about our questions and our struggles and our pain without covering it on a higher plane with a bigger umbrella of trust and hope that trumps everything else. For instance, Verse 1:

I’ve had questions, without answers

I’ve known sorrow, I have known pain

Love it. But then:

But there’s one thing, that I’ll cling to

You are faithful, Jesus you’re true

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great verse. And I believe it. But the problem is that there have been times in my life where I haven’t believed it. Where I haven’t clung to Jesus as being faithful or true. My life demonstrated just the opposite. And I’ll bet YOU have been there, too. So singing this just feels disingenuous sometimes. But, other times it’s not. Other times it’s GREAT to declare our sense of trust and hope in the midst of life’s storms. I’m all for that. That doesn’t mean, though, that we aren’t also in need of songs that just give us a chance to voice our despair and doubt.

Anyways, I chose to alter the lyrics of Verse 3 so that we could at least END the song in existential despair… ha!

When confusion, is all around me

And the darkness is my closest friend

When the laughter fails to comfort

When my heart aches, Lord are you there? (the original lyrics: Lord, you are there)

Video Clips: Peter Rollins on Doubt

Then we watched two short video clips of Peter Rollins talking about Doubt. The first video he throws out the idea of God doubting God. That Jesus, while on the cross, cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as a demonstration of despair and doubt. So he suggests that when we lean in to our doubts, and embrace our dark nights of the soul, that we are then standing in the very sight of Christ.

As a way to complement this, I set up three canvases on the right part of the stage. And throughout the evening I invited and artist to write the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on these three canvases. First lightly in pencil, then gradually heavier and darker with a black pen, a black sharpie, and finally with black paint. So it was cool having her off on the side expressing this sentiment over and over again, getting bigger, darker and bolder.

The second video, as I mentioned above, was when Peter challenged faith communities to consider a Liturgy of Doubt.

Interactive Element

I think it’s important to provide interactive elements in our corporate worship so that it’s not all just passive/observational experiences. So I had signs printed up that were from a poem called, “An Approach to God – Losing My Religion” and posted these all around the sanctuary in groups of two. One sign would be a positive expression of faith in God. The other sign would be a negative expression, a statement of doubt.

Statement of Faith

Statement of Doubt

I also had small cards printed up and put on everyone’s chair before they got there that read “Sometimes I doubt __________________.”

So during this part of the gathering I invited people to take some time and interact with their own doubts. I invited them to get up from their chair, walk around the room, and read all seven stations. And if, while reading one of the signs, you find yourself resonating with the idea on the sign, then just sign your own name on the paper. As a way of saying, “yup, I can relate.” Then, take your card and write out three things that sometimes you doubt. It could be doubts you have now, it could be things you’ve doubted in the past, it could be things you always struggle with.

Sometimes I doubt ________

A few of the Stations of Faith/Doubt Statements

Can I just say, this part of the gathering blew me away.

I got off the stage and took part in the seven stations around the room, and it was incredibly powerful to stand there and watch people willingly and publicly sign their own names on some pretty heavy expressions of doubt.

And everybody was doing it!

Everyone was be honest and saying, “yup… I’ve had that thought before about God.” Or, “yep, I’ve doubted God in that area.” It was so powerful to be a part of this expression of both faith AND doubt on a corporate level.

Worship Through Song

The old Hymn, “Come Ye Sinners,” but without the slightly cheesy chorus that was added to the original hymn by someone else at a later time. It goes like this:

I will arise and go to Jesus / He will embrace me in his arms

And in the arms of my dear Jesus / Oh there are, 10,000 charms

What the?! Why would an armful of charms be appealing to me? Anyways… the verses to this song are golden. Especially when you go back to the original version of it and add in the few lines at the end of each verse that the “chorus” writer took off.

Scripture Reading – Psalm 44

Original Song: How Long

About 6 weeks ago I was frustrated by the lack of songs that express Doubt, so I chose to just write one. I had read Psalm 44 and was struck by how the Psalm started on a positive note (God, you’ve done all these great things for us and for our fathers…) but then takes a sharp turn at the end (But where the heck are you now? Are you sleeping? Wake up! If you really love us, then help us!”).

It’s called “How Long,” and you can hear the live performance of it here, if you’d like.
How Long (Live)

Interactive Element Cont’d

Then I invited everyone to turn their chairs and get in to groups of 3-5 people. Once in their groups, they were to go around and each share what they wrote on their “Sometimes I doubt _____________” cards. But I told them they could only read them. They could not set it up, or put it in context, or tell a bigger story. Or say, “sometimes I doubt_________, but not right now! Right now I’m good!”

Nope. Just read your doubts. Outloud. To others.

And then we put a phone number on the screens and invited people to text in some of their doubts.

Special Music

After several minutes passed, and people shared their doubts with one another, I sang the song “Silence of God,” a real gem by Andrew Peterson. Seriously, pause now and go listen to it!

During this song we put on our screens some of the doubts that had been text in.

It was a really, really cool moment.

As I’m singing this amazing song about the silence of God people are looking up and reading all these different types of Doubts. And they are discovering this: You are not alone.

You are not the only one who doubts.

You are not the only one with THIS SPECIFIC doubt.

Very cool moment.

Reading from “How (Not) to Speak of God”, by Peter Rollins

A buddy then got up and read a parable from this book. The parable imagined a small community of people who, right after Jesus was crucified, left the city and started a small faith community in a remote village. This faith community continued on and lived out the teachings and the values and principles of the Way of Christ, never knowing about any resurrection or ascension. But they viewed the Love of Jesus and the Way of Jesus as having inherent and intrinsic value that, even though it ended in death for Jesus and would end in death for them, they were committed to that way of love and peace. And then, after about 300 years, a small group of missionaries found this remote village and preached to them about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The community was elated and ecstatic and celebrated throughout the night, but no one could find the village elder. Finally, one of the missionaries found the elder alone at the outskirt of the village, clearly saddened. The missionary wondered why he wasn’t joining in the celebration, for Jesus is not dead but alive! The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the face:

Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judge him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him not because of the implicit value he has, but because of the value that he posses for them.’

I’m not sure why I chose to end the night with this parable, but it just seemed fitting.

What if, in a life full of sorrow and pain and suffering, we were not assured of any resolution from our doubts? What if all we had to look forward to was death?

Would we still follow Jesus? Would we still live in his love, and live out his love?

Is he worthy of our allegiance because of what he can do for us? Or because of who. He. Is.

Close in Song

And, though I partially didn’t want to, we closed the evening with “It is Well With My Soul.” It’s just such a great song, even though it semi-sort-of worked against the point of the evening. Ha!

It really was a phenomenal exercise in practicing a Liturgy of Doubt. Something I think the Church would do well to embrace, embody, and invite people to engage in.

Thanks to those of you who came out and went there with me. I hope you found it as meaningful as I did.

We’ll see you at the next REVEAL on Sunday night, November 4th at 7pm.

______________

p.s. I did a talk a few months back wherein I explored more about what it might look like to Lean in to Your Doubts. You can check that out here.

Where’s the “Progressive-Leaning” Worship Music?

Worship Music Has Gotten Better, Yes

So I’ve been leading worship in the Evangelical Church world for 13 years now, and during that span I’ve seen quite the growth in the world of “worship music.”

In the days of youth group worship, we regularly parodied old rock songs and made them about Jesus, such as:

(Sweet home up in Heaven / where the skies are so blue / sweet home up in heaven / Lord, I’m coming home to you)  -Sweet Home Alabama

(I feel like praisin’ you… / I feel like praisin’ you… / I feel like giving praise to you!)  -I Feel Like Making Love #wtf

(And then I saw God’s grace / now I’m a believer / without a trace / of doubt in my mind / I’ve been loved / oooooo.. I’m a believer, I couldn’t leave him, if I tried)  -I’m a Believer

Then, thankfully, the Vineyard movement hit and that gave us some simple choruses that we could easily repeat over and over and over for eight minutes straight, and really whip people up in to the spirit.

Chris Tomlin hit the scene and started to write accesible pop music tunes that were easy to sing, easy to play, and spread like wildfire.

Then the “rock” scene within Christendom got wind of how much money could be made, ahem, sorry, excuse me, er, um, how much WORSHIP of GOD could be facilitated by giving and “edge” to the worship music. Thanks to bands like Sonicflood, Delirious, Skillet, Hillsong United and Kutless, we discovered that Jesus loves a good distortion pedal.

More recently, like in the past 3-5 years, I think we have FINALLY begun to see some really GOOD music being made for corporate worship. Music that is not just attempts to recreate what the “secular” world is doing. Music that is interesting, engaging, and challenging. I’m thinking of artists like Gungor, Jesus Culture, John Mark McMillan, Mike Crawford and All Sons and Daughters. Maybe to a lesser extant, but still in this category, you could add David Crowder Band and Leeland.

(sidenote: wow, after typing all that out, I notice an EXTREME lack of female artists. Is that just ME and my lack of exposure? Are we not hearing from our female musicians? Ugh… I need to figure that out. Waaaay to much masculinity going on here.)

So all this to say, “worship music” has come a long way, and I for one am grateful.

But What About Us Progressive Peeps?

But here’s my question: Where is the music being written for corporate worship that has a more progressive theological bent?

I, and many others like me, are moving away from a type of conservative, evangelical, western Christianity. But it is within that framework that virtually ALL of our worship music has been written. All the themes, language, and theology of the songs are, for the most part, indicative of a very narrow brand of Christianity. And I, and others like me, have been forced to sort of sing some of these songs with a bit of cringe. A sort of, “okay, well, I’ll SING this, but I won’t really like it.”

Sometimes I end up changing a word here, a line there.
Other times I just won’t do a song that every other church in the country is doing, because I just don’t want my people singing THAT. Getting THAT idea stuck in their head all week.

And it’s frustrating.
It’s hard enough to find music that is qualitatively GOOD and artistic and interesting, but now to also try and find ones that have the type of theological thrust to it that fits more within our faith community? Pfsh… good luck.

And furthermore, consider how LONG it took for the music scene to get from “crappy cover songs where we put in the word JESUS,” to “wow, that’s actually some really good music.” Probably like 40 years!

So if we are JUST now starting to move in a New Kind of Christianity type of direction, following Christ in to newly discovered (read: always been there, just not been realized) ways of being in the Kingdom, then do we have to wait another 40 years for really good church music, too?

I did a Google search yesterday on “progressive Christian worship music,” and sure, there is stuff out there. There are people writing songs with great lyrics and theology, but, um, it’s really not very good music. Just being honest. They sound like the campy folk songs of the 70′s and 80′s.

For instance, here’s a website dedicated to gathering resources for progressive christian artists. Really? PCAN is what you want to be called? #underwhelming

Here’s a guy who’s done some great philosophical writing on what exactly IS progressive worship music, but check out his website. And listen to some of the music. #underwhelming

Check out this video of one artist who’s name shows up a lot in lists of “progressive worship music” people. #sigh

Guh.

See what I mean?

Speaking of ‘mean,’ I’m not trying to be. Really. I genuinely want people to use their gifts, to make art, to DO the hard work of writing music.

And I’m sure the above people/resources are exactly what many people want and need. I’m just looking for something more. Something different.

Something like a Gungor, or Jesus Culture, or Civil Wars, or even Crowder, but with theology and lyrics that I can sing with full conviction and honesty and truth.

If you’re reading this and you’re similar to me (more bent towards a progressive type of theology) and you’ve stumbled across some artists that are making really good music with really good lyrics, can you please direct me?

REVEAL: A Night for Worship in Urban San Diego

We are starting a new initiative here at Missiongathering Christian Church.

It is a consistently non-consistent Sunday Night Worship Gathering. (Meaning, it won’t happen every week… so you’ll just have to follow along to find out when it’s happening next!)

Beginning at 7pm, here at Missiongathering, we invite you to come and join us for a night of worship through music, prayer, meditation, reflection, etc.

Here’s a video to tell you more about it.

See you then!

REVEAL: A Night Of Worship from Missiongathering on Vimeo.

Church. For the first time in two months.

Going to Church Again

“Where are we going, daddy?” Zeke asks, as he pulls the second sleeve of his big winter coat over his left arm.

“We are going to go to church this morning,” I reply, knowing that I haven’t given him that answer in quite some time.

“Church?” He responds skeptically. “Why are we going to church? Did you get a new job?”

So went the brief conversation with Zeke, my seven year old, yesterday as my wife and I gathered up the kids while simultaneously gathering up the courage to attend church for the first time in over 2 months.

There’s a strange sort of liberation-meets-despair in not having a home church. I’ve known plenty of people in my life who have been between churches, but that’s never been a chapter in the story of my life. As a youth I went where my mom went. In college I interned at a church. Upon graduating, I got a full-time Associate Worship Pastor job and worked there for two years. Then I moved to Arizona and worked at The Grove for the last five. But now…? Nothing. Nada. Zero church activity in Kate and mine’s life for the past 9 Sundays

On one shoulder I hear a small voice say, “now that you don’t WORK at a church, you can just WORSHIP at a church… any church you like! Just go for it!”

Her name is Liberation.

But you can call her Libby.

On the other shoulder I hear another voice: “You know that thing you’ve done every Sunday for the past 544 Sundays? That thing that’s helped define you and your life? The thing that keeps you centered and grounded, renewed and fresh? That thing that all your close friends do each week, and where you feel loved and accepted and a part of something? Yeah, well, that thing is gone.”

His name is Despair.

Or Dez, if you prefer.

Overdramatic? Perhaps. But it’s where I’m at right now, so deal with it.

Dez has been winning most every battle lately. I occasionally let Libby speak her piece, but I just can’t buy yet what she’s selling.

But yesterday Libby (supported by Katie) finally tasted victory.

We went to St Paul’s Episcopal Church here in Salem, OR, and having attended an Anglican church in Arizona a while back we had a general idea of what to expect. It was fun for me (as it usually is) to visit a church, because I get to see for fresh eyes what it’s really like coming to a church for the first time. Having worked full-time in the church for the past seven years I can’t tell you the number of meetings we’ve had wherein we discuss what we want our “first impression” to be for any visitors. We talk about what sort of experience they might have, or how they might interpret this or that. Most of that is guess work, since we’ve all been AT that church for years.

But when you visit, you get to really experience what it’s like to have a “first impression.”

We were warmly greeted by multiple people and quickly assisted in finding the nursery. There wasn’t (or so we thought) a kid’s program that day, so Zeke and Tai sat with us throughout the whole service. It was fun to see the slight look of surprise on people’s faces when they saw us and we confirmed that we were “new.” Either they don’t get many visitors or perhaps just not many young married couples with kids as visitors.

The sanctuary was stunning. My world for so long has been dominated by the Evangelical, post/modern church scene, where “theater” is the new “cathedral,” and giant screens are the new hymnals, that I forgot what sort of care and intentionality and beauty went in to constructing churches of old. I don’t know how long this church has been here, but it’s architecture is both dated and timeless, standing in the current future while echoing the dreams and designs from the past. With tall, arching wooden ceilings that reminded me of what Noah’s ark might look like if turned upside down. Beautiful stained glass windows all down either side, framed by wooden carvings depicting Biblical narratives. Two long rows of pews leading up to the front of the church with an elevated altar where eventually would sit the Eucharist elements. On the floor, in front of the altar, was a place for a band, a children’s choir, and a handbell choir. Suspended high above the Eucharist table was a beautiful golden cross. Everything in the room seemed insistent that you, as the participating worshiper, knew full well that Christ was going to be the Center of whatever occurs in that space. Including the fact that the preaching “pulpit” was off to the side. (*sidenote: for anyone who’s ever attended a worship gathering I’ve led, you may recall that I never stand in the center of the stage. I am always off to the side. This is intentional, for under no circumstance should our worship gatherings be confused and think that I should be the center of attention. So I love that the Episcopal church also forces action away from the center, where the Eucharist table resides and the cross hovers.)

The worship service itself was a beautiful liturgical dance. Moving from music to scripture to prayers to a sermon to more music and more prayers and more scripture readings. And everything worked it’s way towards Communion, for that is the pinnacle for which all previous expressions of worship lent themselves toward. (My fellow Catholic brothers and sisters shout a resounding “Well, duh!”)

I loved it. I loved that a woman (Rev. Heather Wenrick, Associate Rector) led much of the service, including giving a very fantastic sermon. A young woman, at that! (My wife loved this even more than I, and I’m sure she’ll blog about it soon!) The music (while I didn’t know any of it) was well done, even if not to my stylistic likings, but it all moved and flowed and had a purpose. And the words made me pause, think, reflect. I loved that my kids were welcome (in the pews the church had cards that welcomed parents of young kids, invited them to not stress out if their kids made noise, and invited non-parents to ALSO not stress out of the kids next to them made noise. How cool is that!?). I loved that the priest, when we went forward for communion, took time to ask us if the kids were receiving communion or a blessing. When we said “a blessing” he genuinely took the time to pray over both Zeke and Tai (we first experience this at Living Faith Anglican back in Arizona, where our dear friend Father Bob Fabey resided over worship. That was our first taste of Anglicanism/Episcopalianism, and it was wonderful. Thanks Bob!)

So, after a two month separation of church and self, it was good to be with the Lord’s people again on Sunday. And it was very good to be a part of St Paul’s. I’m sure we’ll be back.

Libby, thanks for not giving up on me. And Dez, thanks for taking the morning off. I’m sure you’ll be back, but the time apart was nice.

If you’re a life-time member of modern evangelical church world, I would strongly encourage you to visit a high-church some Sunday. Be it Anglican, Episcopal, or Catholic. Don’t worry, Jesus won’t mind. In fact, you’ll probably meet him there, in ways you’d never imagine.

Goodbye Grove

CLOSING THE DOOR ON 5 YEARS 

The sun has not yet come up on this, my second to last morning here in Arizona. Before the land of the sun reminds me why it’s so great to live here this time of year, I sit here at my kitchen table, amidst yet-to-be-packed clutter, and hope my brain works well enough to listen to my heart. For as the last of the medium sized, double-walled, moving boxes from Lowe’s holding our precious few belongings are sealed up and ready for the moving truck, my soul too hopes it can find a way for some closure. Find a way to put some definition to the past five years, and perhaps package it in a way that leaves something beautiful behind while simultaneously opens the possibility for further blessing and hope ahead.

Five years ago I moved my then family of 4 away from everything we’d ever known in Oregon to explore the adventure awaiting us at The Grove in the unnecessarily hot desert of Arizona. I knew it was time, back in the summer of 2006, to put us on a new path that would explore fresh possibilities for ministry. At the age of 24 I was entrusted with the task of leading a Worship ministry and creating an Arts ministry for a church of about 200 people. I still reflect on the fact that for my first 4 months on the job, while we met in a school gymnasium and did the portable-church thing, our worship band was without a drummer! What started with a handful of dedicated singers and musicians would eventually blossom in to enough amazingly talented volunteers to create more than four full bands. What started with a small group of people open to the idea of trusting and following a young, naïve but passionate 24 year old, grew in to a movement of hundreds STILL open to trusting and following a naïve but passionate 29 year old.

And so I want to write this blog post and say ‘thank you’ to the community of people that allowed me to serve them and lead them for the past five years. I want to bless you as you continue on in this unnecessarily hot desert, pursuing a life in the Way of Jesus. And I want to challenge you to grow and become a community of people so bent on following Jesus that you’ll stop at nothing as you pour out your love for God and learn to love others in a whole new way.

THANK YOU

To The Church – To the church that opened your hearts and entrusted me to lead you each week in worship, I want to say “thank you.” You allowed me to push you and challenge you to new ways of worshiping the King. You were open to the idea that perhaps worship looked different than you always thought. You let me try out some crazy stuff:

-leading worship from behind everyone at the back of the room

-making art during the service, or allowing other artists to create their art during the service

-trying out different postures with our bodies, and finding out how our bodies are interconnected with our souls

-exercising the right to stillness and silence one moment, while being WAY TOO LOUD for such a small concrete box in the next

-tack salt packets to a wall

-make a giant ceramic mosaic together

-incorporate texting into our expression of worship

-take off our shoes and walk through buckets of paint

-release hundreds of balloons in to the air

Thank you for stepping outside your box and discovering the beauty that mysteriously exists there.

Thank you for giving me the space and freedom to be open and honest with you as your worship leader. There were Sundays that quite frankly I had no desire to be at church with you all. Whether it was personal tragedy or life circumstances. But you gave me the space to be honest with you and say things like, “this morning is really hard for me… Honestly I’d rather not be here with you… I don’t really FEEL like worshiping today…” and then together we’d practice the art of worshiping the King anyways. Learning to move past our own finite moments and engage with the infinite Transcendent One. You gave me the chance to practice what I preach, and in turn it made our worshiping community so beautiful. So thank you for letting me bring my own story to our times of worship together. It was rich, meaningful, and powerful.

Thank you for trusting me. For the most part, I have been younger than the majority of you, but you trusted me to lead you… to teach you… to shepherd and guide you. Thank you for that. Thank you for believing that perhaps God had raised me up to lead you in worship and show you how to stand humbly before the Creator, or how to dance wildly before the King, or how to bask in the love of Jesus. Leaders cannot effectively lead their people unless the people trust them, and I always felt like you trusted me. I didn’t always understand it, but I never took it for granted or held it lightly. It was (and is) a weighty thing to be a shepherd of God’s people and each week I took that stage with humility, knowing that I did not deserve such a platform. But you graciously gave it to me, and trusted me.

Thank you for your years of love, encouragement and support. For all the times you’d come up to me after a service and bless me with your words. For your faithful giving to the church that sustained a paycheck for my family and me. For the notes, emails, and messages that encouraged me and inspired me. Thank you for being our friends and our family, for giving my wife and kids a place that would feel like ‘home.’ The Grove has been our home away from home, and it’s because you opened your hearts to us, welcomed us, and gave us a place to love and be loved.

To the Worship/Arts Team – To the most amazing group of servants I’ve ever worked with, I want to say ‘thank you.’ You have been the reason why I’ve loved my job more than anything for these past five years. Thank you for dedicating yourself to your craft and always working to grow in new ways. Thank you for the hours and hours of your lives that you’ve given up to serve the church. Thank you, to the families that were left at home while we practiced and rehearsed, for allowing us to work so hard for so long.

Thank you for making my job so wonderful. I have loved every minute of serving with each and every one of you. We had some incredible times together. Laughing. Crying. Worshiping our faces off. Laughing some more. Me getting frustrated at you all and you all secretly getting frustrated with me! We spent so much time together that my heart has been forever shaped by you all, and I’ll truly never be the same.

Thank you for believing that I have something to offer this world. For believing that I have a gift and a calling. You followed me well over the years, and at times I didn’t understand it. You were gracious in your following and kind in your serving. I knew that I could tackle almost anything because I was surrounded by the most amazing people who were doing it with me.

I love you guys ‘n gals. I will miss you dearly.

To the Staff – Thank you for letting me be me. I always felt comfortable when I went to work each day, and that’s because I knew I didn’t have to put on a mask. You were the best bunch of people a co-worker could ever imagine.

Thank you for trusting me when I said I have a new place to eat that we all had to try.

Thank you for trusting me with your lives and your stories, and allowing me to listen as you wept, or counsel when you asked. Thank you for letting me pastor you at times.

And thank you for pastoring me. You all have been the shepherds of my soul. Listening when I wept and counseling when I needed it. Thank you for taking such good care of me and my family. I always felt loved by you, and that’s an amazing feeling.

Thank you for understanding me when I’d go crazy and demand the Boot Camp ladies never exercise at the church again!

Thank you for making me feel like I was important. Like I was wanted, even needed.

Thank you for knowing that I was always a bit different, and for accepting me anyways. Thank you for letting me cuss in your offices and for not freaking out… most of the times. Thank you for being okay if I played my music too loud, or if I left my door open and you heard the SAME FRIGGIN’ AUDIO CLIP played twenty times in a row as I was editing a video. Thank you for church golf. For birthday lunches that I’d drag you all to. For letting me come up with random reasons for us all to celebrate together. Thank you for making me laugh and for laughing at me.

Thank you for getting mad at me at times, and pushing back when I made stupid decisions. Thank you for giving me the space to be mad at you when I didn’t like your decision. Thank you for putting up with my artistic-moodiness at times.

Thank you for letting me wear so many damn hats: the IT guy, the communications director, the marketing guy, the guy who always worded everything, the bulletin guy, the internet and website guy, and even at times, the worship and arts guy. You all knew I was making most of this stuff up as I went, but you were okay with it.

I felt, over the past 5 years, that I mattered to the team, to the staff at The Grove. And that’s a big deal. Everyone wants to feel wanted, to feel important and valued. And each day that I went to work I FELT that. So thank you.

To Palmer, Paul, and Matt – We started this crazy journey together 5 years ago, and it has been the best 5 years of my life easily. Thank you guys for letting me be a part of the team, and letting me bring all of who I am to the table.

Matt, you have been a constant source of encouragement to me. Always smiling, always loving. You have shown me how to love the least of these. You have shown me what a shepherd’s heart looks like. Thank you for your never-ending supply of grace and kindness.

Paul, you have simultaneously kept me sane over the years while also driving me insane. Like a brother, you have pushed me and challenged me to always do better and try something new. You seemed to believe in me in a way not many people have, and I thank you for that. Thank you for being the ying to my yang. I don’t think I’ve ever been closer to someone who is so entirely different from me in every way, and that means the world to me. You know so much about me, what makes me so strange and different, and yet you’ve always accepted and loved me. And that has taught me something about life that has forever changed me.

Palmer, thank you for being the most amazing boss anyone could ever ask for. You trusted me at times when not even I trusted me. You saw something in me 5 years ago and gave me a chance to come down here and join you on this crazy mission, and I thank you for that. Thank you for giving me the freedom to be who I am. Thank you for trusting me when I had a crazy idea, and for entrusting me with YOUR crazy ideas. Thank you for graciously allowing me to say ‘no’ every time you requested a Jeremy Camp song. Thank you for supporting me and having my back at times when not many people did. Building a church with you has been amazing, and I mourn that we won’t get to see all our dreams come to fruition. Thank you for trusting me to lead our people in worship every week, even though at times my ideas were a bit strange. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you on Kingdom and Gospel. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me to preach. Thank you for loving my family and always making sure we were taken care of. I love you and I will miss you.

BLESS YOU

I want to try and give you, The Grove, a blessing. To you, the community of Grovers, who have blessed me so much through the years, I want to now give a few words of blessing as you move forward in your journey as a new and different church without me as your Worship Pastor.

First I want to say “bless you” as you continue your mission to Love God, Grow Together and Serve the World. The Grove is a unique place, unlike anything else in the valley (or Arizona, for that matter). Your commitment to be a church that gives and serves is unparalleled. Bless you as you continue to refuse to be a church that is centered on itself. Don’t ever listen to the voices that encourage you to stop looking outward and start looking inward. The Grove has been healthy and vibrant over the years because it knows that the church is designed to GO. The church is a sent-people, entrusted by God to uncover the Kingdom in the darkest places. Bless you as you follow your leaders to Africa, to Haiti, to Mexico and downtown Chandler. Bless you as you give your money towards something greater than yourselves, and you learn to live on less because you desire to give so much more.

Bless you as you open your arms to whoever is your next Worship Leader. In some ways, this will be very difficult for you to do. I am unique, I know that. Hear me say this: you will not find another Colby Martin. I don’t say that with any arrogance, so don’t misread me. What I mean is that you will do a great disservice to whomever the church hires next if you constantly compare them to me. They will fail, and that’s not fair to them. Rather, be open to the exciting possibility that someone new will come along and take you all in to new directions that I never even dreamed of. Someone who will lead you in ways I was never capable of. I bless you as you give your trust to someone new, and open your hearts to him or her like you have for me. Give them the space to be who they are, and don’t try to shape them in to something they are not. Bless you as you mourn the loss of one worship pastor but dare to follow another. You can do it. It is good. It will be beautiful.

Bless you as you continue to grow. Like I said, The Grove is unique, and you will continue to attract new people. The church will continue to grow, and it will make a lot of you very uncomfortable. The church is a perfect size right now: it has all the advantages of being a bigger church, but all the feel of being a small church. But as the church grows, you will be stretched in new ways. And I pray a blessing on you as you learn what it means to be a part of an even bigger community of Jesus-followers. Keep giving. Keep serving. Keep going.

And lastly, bless you as you Worship the King each Sunday. Remember the things we’ve learned together over the years. Just to help you, here are a few things I really hope have stuck/will stick with you about worship:

-       Worship gives us space to realign our stories with God’s Story. As you tell the Story of God through song, scripture, prayer and liturgy, your OWN story slowly begins to shift and change. Each Sunday seek to find where your story got off track and use the worship to realign.

-       Bring all of your self to your worship. If you’re full of joy and happiness, then you better be rejoicing! If you’re full of sorrow and pain, then bring that too. Whatever season of life you’re in, USE that as you enter in to worship. Bring your emotions and life situations IN to your worship. Do not fake it.

-       Worship is both more simple and more grand than you can imagine. Be open to new expressions of worship, new ways to engage with the King. Never think that worship is only about music, it is way more grand than that. And don’t over-think it, either. The smallest moment of thanks is worship. The tiniest act of love is worship. Standing silent and being still before God is worship. Believe that God is worthy of ascribing worth to, and then give it.

-       It is all about Jesus. That is what makes our worship unique, it is centered on Jesus. If you’re ever in doubt about anything in your faith (which is totally fine and normal, don’t freak out) just remember it all comes back to Jesus. He knows you. He loves you. He is closer than you can imagine. When everything falls apart, fall on Jesus. He is the reason we sing. He is the hope for our lives. In him we live and move and have our being.

CHALLENGE

Finally, I want to be so bold as to challenge you, the people of The Grove. You trusted me for five years, and perhaps you’ll trust me for just a moment longer and allow me to give you a few words of exhortation.

Above all else, choose love. God IS love, and I believe that love is God’s primary posture towards creation. As such, I believe it should be our primary posture as well. You can never go wrong when you love, but it is very easy to go wrong when you don’t. Judging people is hard. We are not very good at it, and probably shouldn’t be doing it. But loving people? Okay, well that’s actually even HARDER, but it is infinitely more important. Leave the judging up to God, it’s God’s job anyways. But you and me? Our job is to love. Unconditionally. Love without hesitation. Love when it seems ridiculous to love. Love when it seems like the last thing you want to do. Love in a way that you want to be loved.

Love the ‘other.’ Find the person who is most different from you, and love them. Not in a way that seeks to change them, for that isn’t love. Not in a way that seeks to fix them, for that isn’t love. Not in a way that seeks to shame them or show them they are wrong, for that isn’t love. You and I don’t change people. We can’t. That is the role of the Spirit of God. Instead, we are meant to love.

May The Grove be a place where all people are welcome. It is already one of the most racially diverse churches in the East Valley. And that is a beautiful thing. It is also very diverse in thought; politically, religiously, and ethically. And that is a good thing, a beautiful thing. Democrats and Republicans sit side-by-side and worship together. Calvinists and Armenians stand in line together for communion at the same table. Sinners and saints both raise their hands in surrender. And this is the way it HAS to be. The church HAS to be a place for everyone, or it becomes a place for no one.

And when you discover the ‘other,’ when you discover that there are people NOT like you in some way, choose love. It is the only way if The Grove is to continue to be a place where the Kingdom of God advances. There is no room for discrimination in God’s Kingdom. There is only room for love.

When all is said and done, and God has put the world to rights, love will be all that remains. Make your life about love, for that is what is lasting. Any judgments on other people will be as wood tossed in the flame. Any words of hate and cruelty will be destroyed. Whatever does not come from love will not last. So I implore that you build what will last. With Jesus as your foundation, choose love.

GOODBYE GROVE

And so, if you’ve finished these 3600 words then I hope it will do for you what writing them has done for me. It has allowed me to begin the process of finding closure. The sun has now officially risen in the sky, the family is awake, and the last of the moving boxes will be packed today. Tomorrow we will drive out of the desert for the last time, and say goodbye to all that has been our lives these past 5 years. We have built relationships that will last forever, and hopefully we’ve impacted lives in a way that is lasting.

Feel free to continue following me on whatever journey is next, by checking in here at my blog. I’d love to hear from you and continue to interact with you.

I know I haven’t said all I wanted to say. I haven’t thanked all the people that deserve thanking. But for now, this will have to do.

I say to you “goodbye.”

I say to you “I love you.”

I say to you “you will be missed. You have forever changed my life, and I am better because of my time at The Grove.”

Thank you.

With love, and in love,

Colby

p.s. I’d love to share this with as many Grove people as possible. So if you wouldn’t mind, please pass this on to your friends and family, or share it on Facebook, or whatever. Help me spread the love. Thanks!

Reflections of a Worship Pastor: Part III

Reflections of a Worship Pastor

Part III: Good Enough?

My previous post in this series addressed my struggle with pride as it relates to leading worship. And so, perhaps fittingly or perhaps ironically, in this post I’d like to consider the issue of insecurity. The all-too common voice inside of us that thrives off destructive comments like “you’re not good enough,” or “why aren’t you better than this by now,” or “really? That’s who you are and that’s what you do?”

Masking Insecurity

I’ve heard it said that pride is hardly ever the real issue. It is usually merely a symptom of insecurity. We use pride as mask to cover our feelings of inadequacy. And this is true for me as well. Underneath my rather shallow issues of pride resides deeply rooted questions about myself: do I have value? Do I have worth? Am I any good at what I do? Do people really like me, and would they STILL like me if they really knew me?

And so to combat these fears and anxieties I put up facades that are designed to communicate self-confidence. I try to convince people I have it put together, that I know what I’m doing, that I’m not plagued by doubt and fear and shame and guilt. Or I hide behind what I do, and I pretend that what I “do” is the same as who I “am.” On Sundays I sure LOOK like I’m a spiritual person who has lots of good things to say, I sure LOOK like I’ve got it put together. And so I let you think that, because that’s better than you knowing the real me.

Ugly Purple Carpet

Confession: I love to watch shows on HGTV with my wife. One of the things I’ve learned from the likes of Carter Oosterhouse, David Bromstead and Vern Yip is that in older homes it’s not uncommon to rip out that ugly purple carpet only to find beautiful original hardwood flooring underneath. And the designer (as well as the homeowners) find themselves appalled at whoever thought it was a good idea to cover it up! However, on the flip side, it’s also true that sometimes they rip up that carpet and find mold, or termites, or even more of mess than they expected. And you almost wish they’d just lay back down the ugly purple carpet and walk away.

Usually, for me, my pride is like that ugly purple carpet. I put it there because I’m convinced it’s better than what was already there. Of course, even the worst-minded designer can see my ugly purple carpet for what it is: ugly. But I’m convinced, should I rip that away, what’s left underneath is even uglier… all my issues of insecurity, doubt and fear. I’m convinced I’m not good enough, I have too many faults and issues, and that I’ve masterfully convinced people all these years that I’m a reasonably decent person (when I know fair well that I’m not).

Marble, or Gold, or Something Else

What God is trying his divine hardest to teach me, though, is that underneath the ugly purple carpet, and underneath the termite-ridden molded flooring, is a foundation of the purest most beautiful marble flooring, laid long before I was born. Or perhaps, if you don’t like marble floors, imagine them gold (like the streets of the New Earth will be). If you don’t like gold, at this point I don’t care… you get the metaphor.

God is wanting me to begin to believe that what I think is at my core (insecurity, fear, etc) is NOT really at my core. That is NOT who I REALLY am. Those are things I have put there, those are things I have allowed the enemy to put there, to cover up the beautiful reality laying underneath: that I am a child of God. That I have been adopted in to God’s family, and stand in harmonious beauty alongside God’s other Son, Jesus.

Greatest Commandment

When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt 22:34-40). But then he did this radically awesome thing, he said “the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Woah. Backup. So you’re saying that loving our neighbors like we love ourselves is “like” loving God? So much so, that you say it’s the second greatest thing we do as humans? And in order for us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves, doesn’t that imply that we, well, love OURSELVES?

There’s so much that can be said here, but I’ll defer my thoughts to the thoughts of one whom I have the utmost respect for.  In “Naked Spirituality,” Brian McLaren shares a story about how he was out for a jog, listening to a sermon, and the preacher quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I desire to so conduct the affairs of this administration that if, at the end… I have lost every friend on earth, I shall have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me.” And then Brian says this,

As I heard those words, it was as if the Spirit took them and pierced me to the core with them. Out of the deepest part of me, I felt a sob erupt. I had to stop running for a few minutes and found myself hunched over in the middle of the trail, feeling that in some mysterious way God was speaking to me and it was a matter of life and death that I listen. And the message that came to me was the realization that, deep down inside of me, I had an enemy, not a friend.
If a friend made a mistake, I would tell him it was okay, that nobody’s perfect. But when I made a mistake, I would constantly beat myself up and mercilessly take myself to task. If a friend was working too hard, I would tell him to relax, to take a day off and go fishing or play a round of golf. But down inside me was a cruel taskmaster who was never satisfied. If a friend had some weaknesses, I would be gracious and compassionate. But not so with myself. And so that day I felt the Spirit using a quote from Abraham Lincoln to tell me that if I was going to last, I actually needed to follow Jesus’ words about loving others as myself, which required me to first be a friend to myself.

Being Friends with Myself

I love this perspective. I love contrasting how I would act or think or talk towards a friend versus how I typically act, think or talk to myself. And Brian is right, usually it’s radically different. And in God’s eyes, that’s not cool. That’s not God’s intention for me… or for you.

And so when I naturally have doubts about myself, wondering if I’m any good or have any value, wondering if I deserve this awesome job I have or the amazing family I have, and when I’m struggling to believe that people might actually like the real me, I will now try and think of what I would tell my best friend: Dude, you’re crazy. Of COURSE you have value! You are amazing, gifted, talented, and they are lucky to have you just as much as you’re lucky to have them. I like you, the REAL you, and I can list off so many people who like you too that your head will spin. You are not only an incredible person, but you are a child of the King, and that means everything! Pull your head out of where you’ve buried it, hold it high, and believe in yourself as much as I believe in you!

Something tells me I’d struggle less with insecurity if I became friends with myself.

Reflections of a Worship Pastor: Part II

The Tower of Babel being built, while Scott Swanson preaches

REFLECTIONS OF A WORSHIP PASTOR

Part II: The Weekly Battle

Yesterday at The Grove, Scott Swanson (Pastor of Spiritual Formation) taught from Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel. Pride was at the core of his message, and so for Part II of my Reflections From a Worship Pastor Series (click here for Part I) I thought I’d open up a can that most (if not all) worship pastors wrestle with every Sunday. The battle against Pride, and all it’s deadly siblings. Continue reading